Like virtually everything else in our world, COVID has impacted education, including how many kids are attending class at Portland Public Schools (PPS). According to the latest numbers released by PPS in October, enrollment in kindergarten through 12th grade has decreased 4.1% from a projected enrollment of 48,649 students. The report states there are 45,005 currently enrolled K-12 students — at neighborhood schools, the five charter schools, language immersion, focus options and the new online learning academy — down from 46,937 the previous year. (Pre-pandemic, the average was around 48,500 annually.)
But it’s not just COVID that’s impacted kids’ attendance. Data from the Portland State University Population Research Center indicate that enrollment is also affected by changes in birth rates, housing (and its affordability, or lack thereof) and other demographic patterns.
Enrollment is the primary driver of just how much the district receives in state funding; continued drops in how many students are in school will impact school budgets, including staffing and programming.
Nolberto Delgadillo, the chief financial officer at PPS, says the district is awaiting new enrollment numbers that will be released in February, and says PPS will then determine which numbers to use for budgeting for the next biennium, or two years. Until then, they are in a sort of a wait-and-see mode.
“When we look at the data and just how sharp that decline is, we’re hopeful now that we have few weeks of vaccine eligibility (for children 5 and older) and more info is coming out regarding COVID and what that means for our behaviors in our community, it will encourage and promote more students to come back to the classroom,” he says.
Over the course of the pandemic, some parents have opted to homeschool their kids or enroll them at private schools — some of which were able to maintain in-person learning. To encourage increased returns to in-person learning at PPS, the district rolled out its Ready Schools Safe Learners initiative earlier this year. Delgadillo says the district is also hosting vaccine clinics at certain campuses to promote health and safety at school.
“We’re still at an interesting point of data gathering,” he says. “I try not to speculate, but be hopeful.”